There are many different challenges I face as a Member of Parliament. But no decision is as agonising as whether to commit our brave armed forces to action abroad.
This is exactly the decision I faced when Parliament was recalled last week to discuss and vote on air strikes against ISIL in Iraq. The mood in this parliamentary debate was a sombre and serious. It was clear that no one relished the situation we found ourselves in.
I am no knee-jerk supporter of foreign interventions and last year, as Chesterfield’s MP, I voted against David Cameron’s plans to bomb Syria. However, at the end of the debate, like most MPs across the House, I decided to vote for targeted air strikes against ISIL in Iraq. I felt that the unique situation we find ourselves in today justified this action for three clear reasons.
First, our RAF will be engaged in Iraq specifically because the democratically elected Prime Minister of that country has requested our help to rid his country of ISIL. This is not an invasion of a sovereign state as in 2003 and there is no question of putting British boots on the ground because our mission there is to support an allied army already in the field.
Second, unlike in 2003, there is a broad international alliance behind the action. This also includes Arab countries like Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
Third, the enemy we will be engaging, ISIL has already openly declared war on Britain and is training fighters to send to our shores. If they were successful in taking control of Iraq or Syria we know what kind of dictatorship they would be. In the areas they currently control, anyone who rejects their warped world view is subjected to beheadings, crucifixions, gouging out of eyes, or rape.
Iraq is far from perfect. But it would clearly affect our security if its burgeoning democracy were to be replaced by a brutal extremist regime bordering Europe on the Mediterranean.
It is important that we learn the lessons of our recent history, and one of those is that action and inaction both have consequences. Whilst the future for Iraq remains uncertain my judgement was that this course of action has the best prospects of a successful outcome.
This is why I voted for the specific motion last Friday. Like people across Chesterfield, tonight my thoughts and prayers are with our armed forces and those who live in fear of tyranny across the world.